Luc Oursel, Areva's chief operating officer (COO) in charge of international marketing and projects and a member of the executive board and the executive committee of the French energy giant, replied to questions emailed by
Joyeeta Basu on the Jaitapur nuclear project and on the Evolutionary Pressurised Reactor. Areva will supply six reactors to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited for the nuclear park in Jaitapur in Maharashtra. Oursel, based in Paris, is one of the senior most executives in Areva.
Q: Jaitapur is said to be located in seismic zone 3, and according to Geological Survey of India data, between 1985 and 2005, the area has witnessed 92 earthquakes. How is the area suitable to have such a high concentration of nuclear reactors — six reactors of 1,650 Mwe each?
A: The most severe event ever observed at the closest fault, located 64 km from Jaitapur site, was the 1967 Koyna earthquake. It reached a 6.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, i.e. 3,000 times less powerful than the one that just occurred in Japan near Fukushima. Studies have then been carried out on the Jaitapur site and revealed that the Peak Ground Acceleration to be considered on site is well under the 0.25g the EPR (Evolutionary Pressurised Reactor) is designed to withstand.
Q: Is Areva providing 100% guarantee that Jaitapur will handle, or avert, any Fukushima like disaster? Or any other crisis, man-made or natural?
A: The EPR incorporates lessons learned from decades of operation of PWRs (pressurised water reactors), as well as from previous accidents at TMI (Three Mile Island, the US, 1979), Chernobyl (USSR, 1986) and even from the 11 September disaster, even though it was not a nuclear event. It was designed to further reduce the probability of accidents and, in the extremely unlikely event of a core meltdown situation, to prevent from any release of radioactivity in the environment. For example, the double concrete shell of the reactor is designed to avoid critical damage to the building structure, both from external and internal sources, and to prevent from any radioactive leakage. Lessons learned from the Fukushima accident will be incorporated as they come.
Q: One of the main complaints against the EPR has been that it is an untested reactor, with a highly complicated design which is not operational anywhere in the world. Moreover, the delaying of design certifications by the UK and the US has made critics question the EPR's design. How can there be certainty that an untested reactor will be foolproof, however good it may look on paper?
A: As an evolutionary design, the 1650 MW EPR reactor planned at Jaitapur combines well tested and proven systems inherited from its highly efficient "parent" reactors, the French 1475 MW N4 and the German 1365 MW Konvoi (which total more than a hundred reactor-years of safe and effective operation and have generated over 1,160 TWh of electricity so far) and improved safety features that integrate the return on experience from past industry events. The EPR, therefore, meets the highest safety requirements of the world's leading regulatory authorities and offers unequalled in-depth protection against both external and internal accidents. Already, the construction of four EPRs has been approved by regulatory authorities and is going on in Finland, France and China, and they will start commercial operation from 2013 onwards. The requests from the UK and US safety authorities were part of the normal certification process and AREVA was able to properly provide the relevant information.
Q: There have been fears that the setting up of Jaitapur nuclear park will be harmful for the environment. Is Areva doing anything to dispel these fears?
A: The EPR planned at Jaitapur, whose design and core equipments are supplied by AREVA and whose construction will be performed under the responsibility of NPCIL, shall meet all conditions and requirements set by Indian environmental authorities in order to avoid any harm to the environment.
Q: Both the Flamanville EPR in France and the Okiluoto EPR in Finland have witnessed delays and cost overruns. How certain is it that Jaitapur will not be affected by similar delays and cost overruns?
A: The first-of-a-series Finnish EPR will be built in 86 months from first concrete to fuel loading and the French EPR in 71 months, while the first four-loop PWRs in the United States were built in 204 and 105 months, respectively. More recently in China, Tian Wan (first of a kind of the AES 91 technology) was commissioned in 2006 after 94 months of construction. As for the other two EPRs which are currently (being) built in China on time and on budget, we and the utility customer are taking full benefit of the experience gathered on the first two projects and are on a schedule of 46 months. This is a world premiere and an unprecedented short timeframe for such large units. The EPRs planned at Jaitapur will fully benefit from the return on experience from the previous four EPR projects.
Q: The ground level protests in Jaitapur are turning serious, with protesters clashing with the police and one person dying from police firing on Monday (18 April). As the situation turns politically volatile, are you worried about the future of the project?
A: While we have no presence, nor involvement, on the site, as everybody we deeply regret the tragic death of a villager during protests in Jaitapur two days ago. We sincerely share the wish that differences of opinion about the project would be settled peacefully and without violence.
Q: Areva is also entering the renewable energy sector in India. Is renewable energy the future of the power industry?
A: Renewable energies are more and more part of the present, and certainly part of the future of the power industry. Electricity requirements are so large and the environmental constraints such that all clean and low-CO2 emitting sources of energy, whether hydro, solar, nuclear, etc., are required in addition to fossil fuels in order to meet power generation targets. AREVA's growing investment in renewable energies (wind, solar, bioenergies, hydrogen and storage) is a strategic choice and, after winning recently in Australia the largest solar plant integrated with a coal-fired power station, we have great expectation that our solar thermal technology will soon find a significant place on the buoyant Indian solar market.